The sun was already hot in the early morning sky. As our group walked in single file, the pungent stench of the open sewer running next to us made it difficult to take in a deep breath. Even though we were the strangers here, we were greeted warmly, yet cautiously, by the friendly faces sticking out from row after row of the patchwork housing units we passed.
Located 5 kilometers from the city center of Nairobi, Kenya, with its more than 1 million residents, sits an area known as Kibera. It is the largest urban slum in all of Africa. We are here for one reason: we are on our way to church.
In our hands we carry a tool that has never been used by this particular church. Woven together from banana leaves is a basket that will be used for the first offering ever to be taken up by the small group assembled here. An excited energy fills the room they have gathered in for the previous six months. Babies are crying, children are running around, and the adults are laughing and smiling as they greet one another. They cram tightly together into a small room located across the pathway from the neighborhood bar.
As this charismatic group of believers begins their service on this particular Sunday morning with a vibrant song of praise, the owner of the bar next door increases the volume on the stereo that he is playing for his early-morning customers. Undeterred by the loud noise coming from next-door, the church service continues.
The pastor has never before taken an offering in his congregation, convinced that the people in this community are too poor to give. However, his sermon this morning is on stewardship. His emphasis is that God owns everything and that the people of God are to effectively manage His resources in ways that will build and advance His kingdom. He explains one way this could happen is through an offering to be collected.
As he sets the woven basket on the front table, a wave of anxiety passes over his body. Yet faithfully, he invites the group, one by one, to place whatever they believe they have been entrusted with into the basket to be used by God.
There is an uncomfortable pause. And then it happened. One by one individuals step to the front and a few coins find their way into the basket. A few people place some dirty wrinkled paper bills into the basket. A celebration of praise and thanksgiving takes place at the conclusion of this offering time. The pastor spends the rest of that Sunday amazed at the generosity of the people in that small congregation. For this pastor, the offering was a one-time experiment to determine if people living within the slums really could give.
The following Sunday the pastor returned to his congregation in the midst of the slum without his visitors from North America and without a basket for the offering. In his mind, the previous Sunday had been a success but he never believed it was something that would continue in the life and the minds of the people within this congregation. Just like the week before, as the congregation began loudly singing their praises to God, the owner of the bar across the pathway began to play his music that much louder to cover what they were doing and disrupt their service.
Yet an interesting thing happened at the conclusion of that morning service: the people began asking, “Where’s the basket in which we will place our offering?” The pastor replied that he had not brought the basket with him today. The people responded, “But today we came prepared to give.” So without a basket and only a simple empty table in the front, people began to bring their gifts.
A year passed without much conversation with this particular pastor, until one day we received a note that simply read, “Giving at our church has been great! We would love to have you join us some Sunday when you are in the Nairobi area to worship with us in our new church building. We have raised so much money from the people within our congregation that we have been able to purchase the bar across the way, and today we are meeting there. Praise God for His goodness!”
Regardless of where we live, our worldview can and must change. What we have learned from the majority world is that the transformation of the mind is made possible through the implementation of effective stewardship.